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The real geraniums: versatile and hardy.

GERANIUMS HAVE AN identity problem. The bright bloomers you probably think of as geraniums are really, botanically, pelargoniums. True geraniums go by the common name of cranesbills. It doesn't help that they're named for one of their least prominent features: small beak-shaped fruit that develops into seed heads.

Overcoming lack of recognition, cranesbills have finally made their way into the mainstream nursery trade. And no wonder: these versatile perennials have a relaxed look well suited to perennial beds and borders. Depending on species, they form low carpets, mounds, or clumps, offering a range of choices for edgings, borders, and ground covers.

The five-petaled flowers, about an inch wide, form soft drifts of color--in shades of pink, blue, violet, or white--that integrate easily with other garden bloomers. Most types reach peak bloom in spring or early summer, and some bloom sporadically into fall. In mild coastal areas, some are evergreen and bloom on and off throughout the year.

Most species of these hardy perennials withstand temperatures to at least 10|degrees~. They're relatively care-free but bloom best when spent flowers are cut off.

Although the cultural needs vary from species to species, most cranesbills need sun to light shade (especially in hot inland areas), average soil, and moderate water. A few, including G. incanum (pictured at left) and G. dalmaticum, tolerate drought. Mulch plants in the desert.

Most nurseries that specialize in perennials carry at least a handful of species, including some of the following strong performers:

G. cantabrigiense 'Biokovo'. Lacy foliage reaches 1 foot tall, 18 inches wide. Pale pink flowers.

G. cinereum 'Ballerina'. Clumps 4 to 6 inches high. Gray-green leaves. Lilac pink flowers to 1 1/2 inches with purple veins, dark centers. Long bloom season. Place in front of borders or in rock gardens. Evergreen on coast.

G. dalmaticum. Shiny lobed leaves form 4-inch-tall mat. Dainty light pink flowers. Needs light shade in hot climates. Good in containers.

G. endressii 'Wargrave Pink'. Compact, mounding plant 6 to 12 inches high, spreading twice as wide. Deeply lobed light green leaves. Salmon pink flowers with darker veins. Self-sows.

G. incanum. Ground cover with wispy foliage mounding to 1 foot high, 5 feet wide. Rosy violet flowers bloom year-round in mildest climates. Self-sows.

G. 'Johnson's Blue'. Spreading plant about 18 inches tall. Clear blue flowers have long bloom season.

G. macrorrhizum (pictured at left). Fragrant foliage, 8 to 10 inches tall, turns reddish in fall. Magenta flowers; 'Album' is white. Vigorous grower, can be invasive.

G. sanguineum. Trailing foliage spreads about 2 feet, grows 1 1/2 feet tall. Magenta flowers. G. s. 'Album' flowers are white, 'Striatum' flowers (pictured at far left) are light pink with dark veins. Use in front of borders.
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Author:Ocone, Lynn
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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